Holland recalls Iran ambassador after Tehran expels Dutch diplomats

Holland embassy IranHolland said on Monday that it had recalled its ambassador from Tehran after Iran expelled two Dutch diplomats, in a deepening dispute involving the assassination of two Dutch citizens by alleged Iranian agents. In July of last year, Holland announced its decision to expel two Iranian diplomats from The Hague, but did not explain the reason for the expulsions. In January of this year, the Dutch Foreign Ministry confirmed that the diplomatic expulsions were in retaliation to the assassination of two Dutch nationals of Iranian background. One of the victims, Mohammad-Reza Kolahi, was shot dead in the head at point-blank range by two assailants in December 2015 in Almere, a coastal town 25 miles east of Amsterdam. Nearly two years later, in November 2017, another man, Ahmad Mola Nissi, was shot in the head in broad daylight in The Hague. Both men were members of Iranian militant anti-government groups that the Iranian state accuses of terrorism and crimes against the state.

On Monday, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok informed the Dutch House of Representatives in The Hague that Tehran had informed his Ministry on February 20 that two Dutch diplomats would be expelled from Holland’s embassy in the Iranian capital. The two diplomats, who have not been named, were ordered to leave the country by Monday, March 4. Later on Monday, Bahram Ghasemi, spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that “two of the diplomats of the Netherlands embassy in Tehran were considered undesirable elements in the framework of a retaliatory measure and were asked to leave the country”. The Iranian move was not made public until last Monday. Blok wrote to the House of Representatives that, in response to Tehran’s move, the Dutch government had decided to recall its ambassador to Iran “for consultations” on how to proceed. Blok noted in his letter that Iran’s decision to expel the Dutch diplomats was “unacceptable and damaging to the bilateral relations between the two countries”.

Late on Monday, the Dutch government also summoned the Iranian ambassador in order to protest the expulsions of its diplomats from Tehran. It was also reported in the Dutch media that a series of financial sanctions imposed on Iran by Holland and its European Union partners in June —presumably over the alleged assassinations that took place on Dutch soil— would remain in place. The sanctions are against two individuals associated with Iranian military intelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 March 2019 | Permalink

Advertisements

Alleged third suspect in Skripal poison attack identified by investigative website

Diplomatic Academy of RussiaAn investigative website has linked a graduate of an elite intelligence academy in Moscow with the attempted assassination of a Russian former double spy in Britain last year. Reports last year identified Dr. Alexander Yevgenyevich Mishkin (cover name ‘Alexander Petrov’) and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga (cover name ‘Ruslan Boshirov’) as the two men that tried to kill Sergei Skripal in the English town of Salisbury in March 2018. Skripal, a former officer in Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU, was resettled in Salisbury in 2010, after spending several years in a Russian prison for spying on behalf of Britain. But he and his daughter Yulia almost died last March, after they were poisoned with a powerful nerve agent that nearly killed them. The Kremlin denies that Mishkin and Chepiga —believed to be GRU officers— had any role in the attack.

Last week, the Russian investigative news site Bellingcat alleged that a third man may have been involved in the attempt to assassinate Skripal. The man used the name Sergey Fedotov, said Bellingcat, but added that the name was probably a cover that was concocted by Russia’s intelligence services. On Thursday, the website said it was able to identify the so-called third man as Denis Vyacheslavovich Sergeev, a graduate of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Diplomatic Academy is one of the most prominent educational institutions in the country and its graduates enter the Foreign Service. However, many of its graduates are elite members of Russian intelligence, said Bellingcat. Earlier this month, the investigative website said that Sergeev traveled extensively in the Middle East, Asia and Europe between 2010 and 2015, using the operational name Sergey Fedotov. It also claimed that Sergeev/Fedotov was in Bulgaria in late April 2015, when Emilian Gebrev, a wealthy local defense industry entrepreneur, fell violently ill. Gebrev was hospitalized for signs of poisoning along with his son and one of his company’s executives for several days. All three made a full recovery.

Bellingcat added that it was able to name the alleged Russian intelligence operative following a four-month investigation that was aided by another Russian news website known as The Russia Insider, Czech newspaper Respekt, and Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat daily. But it also acknowledged that Fedotov’s alleged role in the Skripal assassination remained “unclear” and that authorities in the United Kingdom had not publicly identified a third suspect in the attempted murder. Meanwhile, British newspaper The Guardian said yesterday that it was told by Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov that a team of British investigators were “on the ground” in Sofia to investigate possible links between the Skripal and Gebrev cases.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 February 2019 | Permalink

Law advocacy center sues CIA for access to Jamal Khashoggi files

Jamal KhashoggiAn international law center based in New York is suing the United States Central Intelligence Agency for access to classified files relating to the death of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi government adviser who became critical of the Kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States and began to criticize Saudi Arabia from the pages of The Washington Post. He was killed on October 2 by a 15-member Saudi hit-squad while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in order to be issued a certificate of divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. After several weeks of vehemently denying any role in Khashoggi’s killing, the Saudi government eventually admitted that he was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

A few weeks after the murder, it was reported that British and American intelligence agencies were aware of efforts by the Saudi government to detain or otherwise silence Khashoggi, and that they had even warned Riyadh against such a move. In November, the CIA was reported to have concluded that Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, had personally ordered Khashoggi’s murder. After its intelligence committee was briefed by the CIA on the matter, the US Senate unanimously condemned bin Salman and the government of Saudi Arabia, and called on the White House to impose sanctions on the oil kingdom. However, US President Donald Trump appears to have rejected the CIA’s conclusion and has refused to condemn the Saudi government over Khashoggi’s murder.

Now the Open Society Justice Initiative, a New York-based foundation specializing in national security and human rights, has filed a lawsuit against the CIA over the Khashoggi case. The lawsuit also names the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as defendants. The 17-page complaint, filed in a New York court on Wednesday, calls for the “immediate release” of all records in possession of these government agencies about Khashoggi’s murder under the US Freedom of Information Act. It calls these records “imperative for the public to properly and timely evaluate Congressional and Executive responses to Mr. Khashoggi’s killing”.

The Justice Initiative is one of the programs of the Open Society Foundations, the international civil-society advocacy group founded by Hungarian-American investor and philanthropist George Soros. Since its establishment in 2003, the Justice Initiative has filed over 100 national and international lawsuits relating to national security, most notably regarding the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, which the agency launched following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 January 2019 | Permalink

Holland says Iranian spies assassinated two men on Dutch soil

Dutch Police HagueAuthorities in Holland have officially accused Iran of ordering the contract murders of two men on Dutch soil in 2015 and 2017, one of them just a block away from the Dutch foreign ministry’s headquarters. The announcement illuminates the reason behind the expulsion of two Iranian diplomats from Holland last year, which the authorities did not explain at the time.

The first of the two assassinations happened on December 15, 2015, in Almere, a coastal town located 25 miles east of Amsterdam. The victim was Mohammad-Reza Kolahi, a 56-year-old electrician who was wanted in Iran for allegedly planting a bomb in 1981. The bomb targeted the headquarters of the ruling Islamic Republican Party, killing more than 70, and is often referred to as the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in Iran’s history. Kolahi, a member of a Marxist-Islamist group calling itself the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), fled the country and was sentenced to death in absentia. He eventually married a Dutch national and acquired Dutch citizenship, changing his name to Ali Motamed. He was reportedly shot in the head at point-blank range by two assailants dressed in all black. Nearly two years later, on November 9, 2017, Ahmad Mola Nissi was also shot in the head in broad daylight by two assailants. The murder took place in the middle of the street in downtown Hague, site of Holland’s parliament and a host of international institutions. Nissi, 52, was a co-founder of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), a secessionist group that seeks an independent Arab homeland in the oil-rich southwestern regions of Iran. Tehran has claimed for decades that both groups, MEK and ASMLA, have been supported by Iraq, Israel, the United States and the European Union.

On Tuesday, Holland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stef Blok, informed the Dutch parliament that the country’s intelligence services had provided “strong evidence” that the Islamic Republic was involved in the assassinations of Kolahi and Nissi. He added that both men were Dutch citizens and that their murders on Dutch soil were “hostile actions” that directly violated Dutch sovereignty. He also revealed that the expulsions of two Iranian diplomats from Holland in June of last year were in direct response to the evidence unearthed by the Dutch intelligence services about the two murders. IntelNews readers will recall that the Dutch Foreign Ministry did not explain the reason for the expulsions when these were announced last summer. Also on Tuesday, the European Union announced the imposition of financial sanctions against two individuals associated with Iranian military intelligence, reportedly in response to Holland’s announcement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 January 2019 | Research credit: M.K. | Permalink

Colombia says Venezuelans caught with submachine guns planned to kill president

Duque HolmesAuthorities in Colombia said that three Venezuelans, who were arrested in Colombia’s Caribbean coast with submachine guns and explosives, were planning to assassinate President Iván Duque. The claim was aired in a video posted on Twitter by Colombia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Holmes, on December 29. In the brief video, Holmes said that Colombian intelligence services had uncovered evidence of a “credible threat to the life” or President Duque. He went on to suggest that the investigation into the alleged assassination operation had gone on for “several months” with the cooperation of “foreign intelligence agencies”, which he did not name. He also urged Colombians to come forward with any information in their possession that could assist the ongoing investigation.

On December 30, several Colombian newspapers reported that Holmes’ Twitter warning had been triggered by the arrest on December 21 of two Venezuelans in Colombia’s northern city of Valledupar. The two men, identified in media reports as Pedro José Acosta and José Vicente Gómez, both 22, were found to be in possession of rifles. Guillermo Botero, Colombia’s Minister of Defense, said later that the rifles were “high-precision” and were “camouflaged”, though he did not explain what that meant. On December 26, a third Venezuelan, identified in media reports as Geiger Vásquez, 35, was arrested in the city of Barranquilla. He was reportedly carrying a bag containing an Uzi submachine gun, along with ammunition and several grenades.

Government officials said that the attempt to kill President Duque could have been sponsored by leftist rebel groups, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), that are active in the Colombian-Venezuelan border. There were also accusations in some Colombian media that the government of Venezuela may have helped plan the alleged attempt on Duque’s life. Since assuming the Colombian presidency in August, Duque has spearheaded international efforts to impose sanctions on the leftwing Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro, who is about to begin his second term in office. Relations between the two neighboring countries have thus sunk to new lows in recent months. On Monday, the Venezuelan government said it had requested more information about the alleged assassination plot from Colombian authorities and that it would provide Bogotá with “the necessary police and intelligence cooperation” to help investigate the allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 January 2019 | Permalink

CIA report says Saudi crown prince sent text messages to Khashoggi killer

Saud al-QahtaniSaudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent at least eleven text messages to the man in charge of the 15-member hit team that killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi last month, according to a classified report produced by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA report was leaked to The Wall Street Journal, which said in a leading article on Saturday that the Saudi royal had sent the messages in the hours before and after Khashoggi’s brutal murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018. Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi government adviser who moved to the US and became a vocal critic of the kingdom’s style of governance. He was killed and later dismembered by a hit team inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone for a scheduled visit in order to be issued written proof of his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia.

Late last month, the CIA and its British equivalent, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), were reported to have concluded that Khashoggi’s murder was directly ordered by Prince Salman. But US President Donald Trump and leading members of his cabinet, including Secretaries of State Mike Pompeo and Defense James Mattis, have disputed these claims, saying there is “no smoking gun” that proves Prince Salman’s involvement. The US president said that Saudi Arabia was “a great ally” of Washington and that Prince Salman’s role in Khashoggi’s murder was unclear. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t”, he told reporters in Washington on November 20, referring to the prince, whom he considers a personal friend. Instead, the White House has placed blame for the journalist’s murder on Saud al-Qahtani (pictured), a former advisor to Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah, who is believed to have coordinated Khashoggi’s killing.

But new a new CIA assessment of Khashoggi’s murder that was leaked to The Wall Street Journal claims that the US spy agency has concluded with “medium-to-high” confidence that Prince Salman “personally targeted” the journalist and “probably ordered his death”. The leaked report, said The Journal, rests on several findings, including the fact that the prince sent at least 11 messages to al-Qahtani in the hours right before and right after the latter’s hit-team killed Khashoggi in Istanbul. The CIA report states that the Agency does not have access to the contents of the texts. But it states that this pattern of communication, along with other pieces of evidence “seems to foreshadow the Saudi operation launched against Khashoggi”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 December 2018 | Permalink

France arrests six far-right militants who plotted to kill President Macron

Emmanuel MacronAuthorities in France have announced the arrest of six individuals who were allegedly involved in a plot to kill French President Emmanuel Macron. Government prosecutors said on Tuesday that the six were arrested for planning “a violent action against the president of the Republic”. A former economy and industry minister, Macron resigned from the cabinet of left-of-center Prime Minister Manuel Valls in 2016 in order to lead a new right-of-center movement called En marche (Forward). In 2017 he won the presidential election with 66.1 percent, becoming the youngest president in the history of France.

French security services have responded to several instances of potential plots against Macron. In one recent case, a man was charged in July of last year with plotting to kill the president during France’s annual Bastille Day celebrations. This latest case, however, appears to be larger in size and sophistication. According to prosecutors, Tuesday’s arrests were part of a wider probe in to “a criminal terrorist association”. All six suspects had reportedly been monitored for quite some time by France’s domestic security agency, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI).

The names and backgrounds of those arrested have not been released. But France’s BFM-TV station said on Tuesday that their ages ranged from 20 to 60, that they were men and women, and that they belonged to an unspecified “far-right organization”. It is also notable that their arrests took place as a result of raids in three different parts of the country —namely in the city of Moselle, located on the border of France, Germany and Luxembourg, and in Ille-et-Vilaine near Rennes in France’s northwestern Brittany region. More raids reportedly took place in the region of Isere in the French Alps. Reports early on Wednesday morning said that authorities were examining the details of the alleged assassination scheme, which was “imprecise and loosely formed”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 October 2018 | Permalink